Penny Day, XR Therapeutics

Next up in our P4SY Accelerator Programme Founder interviews, we’ve been talking with Penny Day of XR Therapeutics.


CEO: Billy Webber
Programme: P4SY
Sector: Precision Medicine
Location: Sheffield
Employees: < 10
Funding raised: £1.5m
Website: XR Therapeutics


Hello Penny. Can you tell us all about XR Therapeutics?

We’re a spin-out from Newcastle University and we’ve developed a treatment that combines Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and immersive virtual reality environments to support people with phobias and anxiety.

In traditional CBT and graded exposure, patients are asked to visualise the focus of their phobia or anxiety, or may be exposed to their feared stimulus, for example, if somebody has a phobia of dogs they may visit the park with a therapist for gradual exposure to their phobia.

At XR Therapeutics, we are able to recreate real-life situations in the virtual world, with scenarios projected onto a 180 degree screen, accompanied by face-to-face CBT with a therapist sitting alongside a patient on a sofa talking to them throughout, to gradually introduce them to their phobia or source of anxiety and help them with anxiety management techniques.

Where did the idea come from?

Our origin was in academic research, where our founders were asking the question of how therapy for anxiety could be more effective for people with autism. In the research it was found that the technology our company is based on could achieve over 50% success rates with individuals with autism, compared to as low as 5% using traditional methods. 

We’ve since worked with various stakeholders to explore different delivery techniques. The use of VR and an immersive, interactive space like our studio, has resulted in much higher success rates and amazing examples of impact.

This has led us to expand our work with people with anxiety and other mental health conditions, we have also now expanded the treatment to support neurotypical individuals as well. We’re also furthering the development of our therapy model to make our intervention even more accessible, by providing better support for individuals with learning disabilities and/or cognitive impairments.

What connections / partnerships are you seeking to make for the next stage of your business growth?

Our first NHS contract is with Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust working with the Complex Neurodevelopmental Service to support children and young people receiving specialist services.

We are seeking partnerships with different NHS Trusts and different internal departments (for example IAPT services, CAMHS, teams supporting adults and young people with autism),and local authorities to open accessible clinical centres across the UK within community settings. 

We are looking to work in two ways with health and care providers. We know there are many workforce challenges due to the pandemic, so we have a bank of our own fully-trained therapists and we are also able to train therapists within Trusts for ease of adoption of our service. Our focus is partnership working – ensuring we understand local population needs for person-centred care.

We are also working with the private sector, with organisations including Aviva, Axa, Bupa and Vitality, to support employee wellbeing. We are looking for further conversations with businesses, social enterprises and charities who recognise the value of our unique service, or are looking to sponsor people for treatment as part of their CSR strategy. 

Our ambition is to develop our technology and therapy further to respond to the needs of people living with PTSD and psychosis as well as other mental health conditions. We want to make the treatment more accessible for different user groups, so we’d like to talk to organisations and funders to be part of our research and development journey.

What would you say are your successes on your scale-up journey?

A highlight for me has been seeing the technology develop and the business spin-out from Newcastle University – from initial business case to our first NHS contract, treating our first patients and seeing the real difference in people’s lives. I can remember how excited we were when our first studio was set-up for treatment! 

We’ve been successful in being awarded Innovate UK Healthy Ageing funding which attracted VC funding and further investment from two angel investors. This investment has enabled XR Therapeutics to scale up application of our technology for neurotypical adults within the Industrial Challenge Healthy Ageing themes of maintaining social connections, and health in the workplace – living a life without limits.

And finally, can you tell us about your experience of participating in the P4SY Accelerator Programme?

It’s been really positive. 

I’ve particularly valued the P4SY Female Founders Group for peer support – it’s great to have a space to share experiences, give and receive feedback and encouragement. We’ve found the connections and introductions to key regional stakeholders to be really valuable and have appreciated the support for grant applications, such as SBRI Healthcare. Compared to some other accelerator programmes that we’ve considered, we’ve liked the personalised approach of P4SY.